FIREFIGHTER jobs are to be shed in South Tyneside after the go-ahead was given for £8m worth of cuts across the region.
A total of 131 officers in Tyne and Wear are to go – about 20 per cent of the total workforce.
And three stations will close as a result of reduced Government funding – at Gosforth, Wallsend and Sunderland Central.
As part of the cutbacks, Hebburn Community Fire Station will also have to cope with one less fire appliance.
It will be replaced by a “targeted response vehicle”, likely to be a specially fitted 4x4 or large van, which will respond to less dangerous situations with smaller crews.
There is no reduction in appliances at South Tyneside Community Fire Station in John Reid Road, South Shields – but jobs there will still go.
One of those to reluctantly agree the cutbacks at a meeting of the Tyne and Wear Fire and Civil Defence Authority yesterday was Coun Joanne Bell, one of the borough council’s representatives on the body.
Coun Bell said she was confident that existing response times to fires which were a threat to life would be maintained.
But she admitted that the same guarantee could not be made for “secondary” fires.
She said: “In the end, we had very little choice but to make these difficult decisions, and there will still be a £3m shortfall.
“There is an understanding that response times to secondary fires and incidents of anti-social behaviour will obviously take longer.
“The priority must be and will be life-risk incidents and fires at properties in South Tyneside.
“There will be no change as far as appliances at South Shields Community Fire Station, but that does not mean there will not be a reduction in staff.
“We were not happy about this, and it was not something we took lightly.
“The fact is that it’s the metropolitan, not shire, fire authorities which the Government has hit worst of all.”
South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck put the blame for the situation firmly at the door of the coalition Government.
She said: “I don’t want the public to be scared because I have faith that our firefighters will continue to ensure that lives are not placed at risk, despite the cuts.
“But you can’t go on cutting away relentlessly at public services without there being consequences.”
Fire Brigades Union secretary Dave Turner said: “These are the most devastating cuts in the service’s history, and will mean firefighters and the public will be at far greater risk.”
“The authority is sitting on £25m-£35m of reserves, and yet chose to ignore the views of firefighters and the communities in Tyne and Wear.”
The FBU said its members had been left “stunned” by its decisions, particularly the closure of Wallsend, Gosforth and Sunderland Central fire stations.